Sermon Proper 7 2018
June 24, 2018
Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father, and our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen. This morning we meditate on the Gospel Lesson which was previously read.
“Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?” It seems like a fair question, doesn’t it? Apparently, these windstorms, these squalls with hurricane force winds can appear on the sea quite suddenly. And it seems this was such an occasion where one did. The ship with the Lord on it, and others with them, vessels about 25 feet long, 7 ½ wide, and 4 ½ tall, these boats would certainly shrink in comparison to the waves which were pouring in over their sides. Such conditions can seemingly rightly induce panic. And that’s what the disciples did. They panicked. They freaked out.
And so do we, don’t we? Don’t we look around us and freak out? Don’t we look at the demise of our culture and assume the world is going to hell and in a hand basket? Don’t we watch the news and see shootings in schools, shootings in the city, hear of robberies in our own neighborhoods? Don’t we see the sadness of children separated from their families, or famous people committing suicide, and worry? We do, don’t we? We look at all of this, and we see sadness, the injustice and the brokenness of all of this, and it weighs on us to the point that we cry out, “Lord, do you not care that we are perishing?”
Just personally, I find myself tempted toward this as I look around at how much our society has lost its sense of rationality. As I mentioned a couple of weeks ago, we see all kinds of division in our society which can be tied to the influence of Marx and those who came as students of his after him. Well, sort of in that same vein, I read an article that someone I knew posted on Facebook. The article said that the younger generations in our country are expressing a real interest in the possibility of adopting communism. I read that and it freaked me out. How can these people have an interest in communism? Do they not see the oppression that communism brought to the people of the Soviet Union, to China, to North Korea? Do they see how in the sinfulness of man when you create a collective a small group will take charge? And then what’s going to happen? They’re going to make sure they take care of themselves and their friends. And they’re also going to make sure that they keep anyone else from dissenting their rule. Which is exactly what we have witnessed. We witnessed it with the deaths of millions, millions of people, in particular millions of Christians in those places. This is what happens, and we have a generation of kids who are considering this? “Lord, do you not care that we are perishing?”
And as I speak in my own life, I am sure you all have many other examples you can think of in your own. Perhaps cultural too. Or perhaps more individual. The diagnosis of a loved one with a terminal illness, ““Lord, do you not care that we are perishing?” The loss of a loved one suddenly: “Lord, do you not care that we are perishing?” The anxiety of losing a job, or fear that our needs will not be provided for: “Lord, do you not care that we are perishing?” The loneliness that comes without a spouse or without children nearby: “Lord, do you not care that we are perishing?” ”
There are so many storms that appear. These squalls that come up and they bring great fear to us. Fear for our lives. Fear for the lives of our children. Fear that things are bringing peril to us, and we might not survive.
And coming back to the disciples, what made it that much worse when the storm came? What made it that much worse when they turned and looked at Jesus? Where was He? Well, He was there on His comfy cushion calm as can be. In fact, He was so calm, He wasn’t even awake.
And that’s something you can probably relate to also, isn’t it? You can probably relate to those times when you are being overcome by these storms, when you are afraid you’re going to be cast off the ship, or worse that the ship is going down with you in it, and you cry out to God and it feels like this. It feels like you’re calling out to Him and He’s asleep at the wheel. You don’t get any notable response. You don’t hear comfort, you don’t see relief. You don’t get a reprieve. Instead, what do you get? The sense that you’re crying out and God’s just asleep at the wheel. But still it gets worse doesn’t it?
When Jesus does wake up, how does He respond? Well, to be sure He takes care of the problem. He demonstrates just how much power He has. He demonstrates that just as God spoke at the beginning and the heavens and the earth were created, so now He speaks, “Peace! Be still!” and His word does just that. It silences the winds, puts a muzzle on this storm. In fact, when it says that the wind ceased there’s a connotation there that the wind demurs from Jesus in fear. So, sure, Jesus demonstrates this great power which keeps the disciples safe. But how comforting is that really? Obviously not that much, because thy all talk amongst themselves “filled with great fear,” and say, “Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?”
And if all of this isn’t bad enough, how did Jesus respond to all of this? Does He gently say to them, “Wow guys, thanks for waking me up, that was getting really bad! You must have been so scared!”? No. He says, “Why are you so afraid? Have you still no faith?” He says to them, “I am God, I’ve got this well in hand. Why would you think I didn’t?” In fact as we look at this response, you can see why it’s paired with the reading from Job, can’t you?
In fact, I always think that passage is hard to hear. It’s one of those where if we as people were writing this, is that how we would make God out to be as appealing as possible? And I say that using that wording intentionally. After all, in our day with the Church in decline I think we have this mentality that we have to be as appealing as possible as the Church. As Christians, we have to make the faith look as attractive as we can. As believers, we feel like we have to defend God and His commands in as winsome a way as possible. Not to say that we shouldn’t strive for winsomeness, but is that God’s approach with Job? Look at that. Job, if you recall lost his ten children in one fell swoop. If that wasn’t enough he lost the livelihood of his animals. He lost his health, he was ill and had boils all over his body. And in the midst of all of that, his wife and friends all tell him how rotten he must be that God would curse him like this, and so he should just curse God back, die, and be done with it. And yet Job remains faithful. Sure, He tells God it doesn’t seem fair, but he never curses God. And what does God come to Job and say? Does He say, “Well Job, you sure did a good job!” To be fair, He does tell Job’s friends they were wrong for what they said, that Job was right, it wasn’t as though there was something in particular he had done. But in response to Job’s claims of unfairness, what does God say? “Sorry?” No. He says, “Who is this that darkens counsel by words without knowledge? Dress for action like a man; I will question you, and you make it known to me. ‘Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth? Tell me, if you have understanding.’” In other words, He comes to Job and He says, “Are you God? No. I am God. I have the wisdom and the knowledge of having created this whole universe. Don’t you tell me what you think is right. Don’t you tell me what you think is fair. I am the LORD the God of Sabaoth. I will say what is right and fair.” In other words, He is telling Job what Jesus, “Why are you so afraid? Have you still no faith?”
And Christians in your trials and your fears, He says the same to you. He confronts your question of “Lord, do you not care that we are perishing?” with His own question: “Why are you so afraid? Have you still no faith?” He says to you, “Look at me. Look at my nail scarred hands and feet. Look at my spear-lanced side. Look at what I have done for you, dying for your sin. Look at that. If have done that, would I not certainly care for you in all things? Will I certainly not abide with you, remain with you in every trial and storm? Haven’t I told you, never will I leave you never will I forsake you? Haven’t I been raised from them dead to show you the victory that is yours? And if you were afraid this wasn’t meant for you, haven’t I baptized you, haven’t I fed you even my own body and blood? I have. I have done all of this for you. Why are you so afraid? Have you still no faith?”
So Christians, why are you so afraid? Have you still no faith? You must ask yourselves that. I must ask myself that. We all must ask ourselves what inhibits us, why the storms draw us to doubt. Why it upsets us so when it seems like Jesus is asleep on the pillow in the boat. Hasn’t He proven that this isn’t arbitrary; that it isn’t by happenstance? Hasn’t He proven that this is all under His care? And more importantly, hasn’t He proven that you are under His care? Hasn’t He even proven as He died for the sins of the whole world that He loves even those who reject Him far more than any of us ever could? So where is our understanding? Where is our wisdom? It’s all for naught. Rather, we are in the hands of the God who has spoken the whole creation into existence, who speaks silence to it. And He speaks silence to you as well in your worry, the silence and peace of His promise to care for you, His promise to work all things to your good. He is the God who sent His own Son for us, so He will surely do this in Him. As the Psalm says, “Our help is in the Name of the Lord, who made heaven and earth.” It certainly is. It is our help now and eternally. Amen.
Sermon Proper 6 2018
Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father, and our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen. This morning we meditate on the Gospel Lesson previously read. Especially these words: “With what can we compare the kingdom of God, or what parable shall we use for it? It is like a grain of mustard seed, which, when sown on the ground, is the smallest of all the seeds on earth, yet when it is sown it grows up and becomes larger than all the garden plants and puts out large branches, so that the birds of the air can make nests in its shade
You have maybe noticed that I’m not usually one to make a big hullabaloo regarding secular holidays in my sermons. When we are gathered here as the Lord’s people, yes we are still citizens of the United Sates in 2018, but there’s an aspect where we need leave the world at the door, and enter the Lord’s house strictly with our Heavenly citizenship in mind. That being said, today I want to start with something relating to Father’s Day.
If you saw the most recent Lutheran Witness you saw that it was about fatherhood. Actually more specifically, it was about “Men at Church.” It was about the trends that we see in our culture in relation to higher proportions of women connected with the Church than men. In fact it not only pointed to statistics which show that women are significantly more likely to be connected to the Church than men, it also pointed out how other statistics relating to men are affected as well. For example, the life expectancy of men is decreasing. Men are much more likely to die from causes related to drugs, alcohol, or self-harm than women. Men are 96.2% of the shooters in active shooter situations.
So we should ask ourselves, why is this happening? Why is this a problem? Well, the magazine made the point as to how so many fathers are not fulfilling their primary role. Quoting Luther, one of the authors said that fathers are “first to bring up their children in the fear and knowledge of God, and then, if they are so gifted also to have them engage in formal study and learn so that they may be of service wherever they are needed.” So according to Luther, the first and most important thing for fathers to do is to teach their children the faith. And as a note, I would say Scripture agrees because Paul tells fathers, “Do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.” That’s the first and most important thing. Earthly education is important, but secondary to that. Is this how fathers think, though? Unfortunately, in my generation and younger many fathers are still teenagers more concerned about how to make sure they have time to access the leisure activities they want to access than they have been concerned about things like marrying their children’s mother and providing the stability of that home, let alone providing long term for the child. In other words, there are a lot of fathers now who don’t even get the secondary portion let alone the first. Sadly, though, even for those who do understand the need to provide – and there are many—a high number of them are more concerned with making sure their children get into a top school system than that they take the time to pray with their children and teach them the Scriptures and catechism. Why? Because the goal is to get ahead in the world.
Now as a note, fathers if you feel accused by this, know I do too. Know that I know there is always more we could be doing to teach children faithfully, which is yet another reminder of our only hope being the cross of Christ. And our dependence on that is the greatest lesson we can teach our children.
But what is the issue really at the heart of all of this? What does all of this really reflect? Well it reflects something that isn’t unique to fathers. I mentioned fathers not only because it’s Fathers’ Day, but also because there are so many statistics that demonstrate how important faithful fathers are to children remaining in the faith. Even beyond this, the reality is, this problem we see manifested in fathers is something that is true for all of us. What’s that? We think the Kingdom of God is too little. Like Jesus said, the kingdom of God is “like a grain of mustard seed, which, when sown on the ground, is the smallest of all the seeds on earth.” The problem is that we think that since we can’t see the greatness of the Kingdom of God, the things we can see are more important. We think that because we see things seemingly more pressing, the Kingdom of God isn’t pressing.
And how does this reflect itself? In the priorities we make: not taking time to hear and learn the Lord’s Word. Not taking time to pray. Not taking time to dedicate our efforts to knowing and confessing the faith. Even beyond this in our day we hear it in the things people say, or imply. After all, what good is Jesus’ sacrifice, when all I have to do is “try hard and be sincere to get to heaven?” What does going to church matter when I have a god who’s a fluffy marshmallow love god that never considers anything we do that bad? What does anything about God matter when I see the needs at the end of my nose and they are all consuming?
And let’s not assume that as Christians we are any less guilty. How often would we rather come in to church and hear a sermon that entertains me than teaches me? Or one that tells me how to make my life better, even how I can be better if I try harder, than yet another sermon about how Jesus died for me? I can imagine it happens to you, because as a Pastor I am even tempted by the desire to produce something strictly about these things, rather than my usual Law Gospel sermon. But is there really more to the Christian life than Law and Gospel? Is there more than these commands which God has given to me, which He calls me to follow, and I don’t? Is there more than the fact that Jesus has kept those commands perfectly because I couldn’t? In these two things is the whole of the Christian life. In these two things, we have all we need. Why do we need something else? Why do we need riches to provide our security, when we have the God who promises that if we seek His Kingdom and His righteousness all these things will be provided for me? Why do we need earthly pleasures to satisfy our passions now, when the Lord promises an eternity of pleasure and joy in His presence? Why do we need castles that will fall when we have rooms in an eternal mansion? Why do we need these temporal things, when we have the eternal promise which is far greater, the promise that is given, not because we deserve it, not because we have earned it, but because Jesus has purchased it and given it to us by His grace and His grace alone?
The short answer is we don’t. Of course, many earthly things are fine in and of themselves. In and of itself it’s not wrong to have a bank account with money in it to provide for my needs and the foreseen needs of my children. It’s not wrong to want to try to put funds in place to provide and education for my children. But what’s the most important thing? To paraphrase a friend of mine, “I would rather my child grow up and make a meager living as a Christian than have all the wealth he could want and lose his faith.” Do the two have to be mutually exclusive? No. But let’s not presume that we can serve both God and money.
And our draw to serve earthly things just proves it. To our earthly eyes, the Kingdom of God appears small. It appears like that Mustard Seed. But Christians, it is that Kingdom, that “when it is sown it grows up and becomes larger than all the garden plants and puts out large branches, so that the birds of the air can make nests in its shade.” Christians, this Kingdom of God doesn’t look like much, but it is your shelter. It is the cover of the tree so that the sun doesn’t strike you by day. It is the cover of the blood of Jesus over your sins. The cover of His blood shed for you on the cross, and won for you in His resurrection. The cover over your unrighteousness with the perfect righteousness in Him.
And how does this come? It is that seed that is cast. It is that seed produced by the earth automatically, by itself. It comes to you by the Word. That Strong Word, comes to you and brings God’s Kingdom, it brings Jesus. It brings His blood shed for you covering your sin. It bespeaks you righteous like the hymn says. It seems such a meager word. A word preached by a jar of clay. It seems so lowly as it was copied by broken fallible human being over millennia. It seems so incomplete, not answering so many questions we have. It seems so worthless when it comes to putting food on my table and a roof over my head. But it is that greatest of all plants. It is the greatest of words, “Your sin is forgiven.” “I baptize you, in the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.” “This is my body given into death for you.”
Yes, as we hear that word, it doesn’t seem like much; that seed that’s cast. But it is great, doing magnificent things. It’s something that we take for granted, but we can see what this is from the existence of the Church on earth. Think about it. The Church started so small, twelve lowly men preaching. And now it covers the nations of the earth. We can’t see it growing, we can only trust that what it says is true and it really is the greatest thing. Yes it is the greatest thing, and that is true whether we are fathers, mothers, sons, daughters, or brothers and sisters. Amen.